Rice baseball and Houston clashed for a third and final time in the regular season as the Owls took the game and the Silver Glove series with a win at Constellation Field.
“I could throw a baseball 150 feet to [Houston baseball coach Todd Whitting’s] house from where we live,” mused Rice baseball coach Matt Bragga after his first Silver Glove Series victory. The cross-town, and apparently cross-street rivalry has rich roots but holds a special meaning for Bragga and his team this year.
“It was fun for our guys,” Bragga said in the midst of postgame celebrations. “It was exciting to see them take the glove there at the end and hoot and holler a bit. That’s fun to get hardware.
That hardware came by way of a rather innocuous start. A groundout from Braden Comeaux and a sac fly from Justin Collins were the only runs Rice scored against Houston on Tuesday, but those two runs would prove enough. Six different pitchers and some carefully executed defensive plays would hold the Owls’ lead for the remainder of regulation.
Here are three things which stood out from the Owls’ important win.
1. Bullpen arms make their final midweek auditions
For Drake Greenwood and the arms who followed him on the mound Tuesday, this was a live-action audition for the weeks ahead. Rice has had their weekend rotation set for more or less the entirety of the season. They haven’t figured out the order immediately following the top three.
If Rice wants to make it to the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to do all they can to win the Conference USA Tournament. That’s going to require more than three starting pitchers, it could take as many as seven. For most staffs, that means someone who hasn’t carried much of the load during the regular season is going to have to step up.
Greenwood lasted 1.1 innings, walking four before hitting the showers. Jackson Tyner was equally ineffective in the fifth, loading the bases while getting one out. Dalton Wood had two good innings, striking out three, before allowing the potential winning run to reach base in the ninth.
On the positive side of the ledger, a few arms did impress. Blair Lewis escaped a 1-out, bases loaded jam in the second. From there he went 2.2 innings, allowing one hit, one walk while striking out two. Kel Bordwine pitched through Tyner’s leftovers, holding the Rice advantage and striking out two in 1.2 innings. Kendal Jefferies came through in the clutch, closing things out with a two-out save.
2. The bats are improved, but still inconsistent
Rice did not have a hit in the third or the fourth inning but managed to score a run in each frame. Although this team will take runs wherever they can find them, the lack of reliable production remains a sticking point. The Owls have enough starting pitching to go toe-to-toe with just about anyone, but that will only take them so far. They need to find a way to get hits, and get them more often than once every other inning. They were limited to three hits on Tuesday.
The pitching wasn’t at their best, but was able to strand 14 Houston runners. That allowed Rice to be in position for the win — their only win this season when scoring two or fewer runs. Rice had been 0-11 previously. The win counts, but Rice can’t count on finding similar victories with such limited production from the plate.
3. Silver Glove
Rice struck first in each of the three games of the Silver Glove series. They held on at Schroeder Park in April and faltered at home on May 1. That set up this winner-take-all pivotal matchup. With the benefit of just enough umph to get things done, Rice took the series.
It’s been an adventurous year for coach Matt Bragga at Rice. There have been highs, lows and confounding twists and turns. Nevertheless, he’s taken back the Silver Glove and his team is in position to make a run in the conference tournament. This team is better than their record and they’re headed in the right direction.